“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” ( Philippians 4:8. KJV)
Stigma remains a significant part of the problem facing persons with mental illnesses in the Jamaican society. It is an illness that most families are not prepared to speak about, but rather to ignore, hoping that it will go away. But instead, the situation invariably gets worse.
Many Jamaicans can share instances of discrimination that they have experienced or witnessed, whether in their places of work, church or school due to mental illness. This series of articles seek to educate and inform, so that we can have a better perspective of mental illnesses. These articles will enable us to advocate for persons and their family members who are experiencing the pain of this disease.
The Bible has provided examples of mental disorders in the stories of David in 1Samuel 21:13, who took on characteristics of abnormality and Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:31-34, whose psychopathology resulted from disobedience. Note also that although Job was morally upright and God-fearing, and we would not classify him in the same category as David and Nebuchadnezzar, he still experienced trauma and stresses in his life. In these and other stories, the Bible has provided us with examples of our human weaknesses: anxiety, grief, conflict, self-control, violence, infidelity, drunkenness, among others.
But, the same Bible has also provided hope for these challenges. The church is strategically placed in our communities, and therefore has a significant role to play in helping individuals and their families with the various challenges of mental illness.
According to the World Health Organization, good mental health is related to mental and psychological well-being. It includes our emotional, psychological, social and spiritual well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. How we manage stress, how we relate to others, and how we make choices are good indications of the state of our mental health.
However, mental illnesses are conditions that involve negative changes in our emotions, thoughts and behaviours; they are associated with distress and problems in functioning within the family, community, or work spaces.
Early warning signs of a problem may include one or more of the following: experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships such as shouting, fighting with and/or ‘cussing off’ family members, co-workers and acquaintances although barely provoked. Having low or no energy, unable to perform daily tasks like taking care of your family or yourself, getting to work or undertaking other activities at which you were previously quite adept. A feeling of helplessness or hopelessness, feeling numb or like nothing matters might also consume you or come and go at frequent intervals.
Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry, family history of mental health problems, and life experiences, such as trauma or abuse, or even a pandemic like the one we are currently experiencing.
The Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is stressful for many persons. The fear and anxiety of the unknown can be overwhelming and COVID-19 has evoked strong emotional responses in both males and females, and across all age groups.
Public health guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus, actions such as social distancing, frequent washing of the hands, and staying at home, can make persons feel even more isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. New realities of working from home, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with friends and colleagues, as well as other isolation-focused activities can contribute to mental health challenges.
Positive mental health allows you to make meaningful contributions to your family and community, to appreciate your full potential, to build on your strengths, trust in God, and reduce and manage stresses.
To maintain positive mental health, you must commit to staying positive, manage your stress, connect with others, be engaged, be physically active, get rest, and seek professional help if you are unable to cope. As our lives are interrupted and our routines change, we must seek to demonstrate gratitude, compassion, resilience, and obedience to God who is certainly able to carry us through.
Disclaimer: This column is not designed to treat or diagnose issues of mental illnesses. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you or anyone you know are experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health, please call your doctor, seek professional help or visit the Emergency Room of the hospital nearest you. The Ministry of Health has Mental Health Clinics in each parish throughout the country.
Dr. Melva Spence, PhD is a practising psychologist in Jamaica